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Research Questions

  1. Who applies for a MyCAA Scholarship?
  2. Which MyCAA users complete their education and training plans?
  3. Does MyCAA improve the employment or earnings of spouses?
  4. Are service members married to MyCAA users more likely to remain on active duty than service members married to nonusers?

Past research has shown that compared to spouses of U.S. civilians, spouses of U.S. military personnel tend to earn less and are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, even when they have more years of education or more work experience. To mitigate the impact of the demands of military life, in 2007 the Department of Defense established a portfolio of initiatives that provide career development and employment assistance for military spouses. One such initiative is the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) Scholarship, which targets spouses whose service member is early in his or her career. The scholarship provides up to $4,000 in financial assistance for spouses pursuing associate's degrees, occupational certificates, or licenses in portable career fields.

This report examines characteristics associated with MyCAA Scholarship application and use, scholarship plan completion, spouse employment and earnings, and service continuation of personnel married to MyCAA-eligible spouses. RAND examined the 2007–2013 employment and earnings data of spouses who were eligible for MyCAA when the current version of the scholarship began (between October 2010 and December 2011). The results show that MyCAA Scholarships are reaching the intended population; that MyCAA is associated with employment and higher earnings (although the relationship is not necessarily causal); and that service members of MyCAA Scholarship users are more likely than similar married service members to be on active duty three years after the spouse is awarded the scholarship.

Key Findings

Over 380,000 military spouses were eligible for the MyCAA scholarship between October 2010 and December 2011

  • Eligible spouses who applied for a MyCAA Scholarship differed in several ways from those who did not apply. For example, spouses more likely to apply had experienced a military move or a deployment, had 2 or more children, were married to enlisted noncommissioned officers, or lived in states with higher unemployment rates.
  • All eligible applicants whose study plans met the MyCAA criteria were approved for scholarships, although 19 percent did not end up using any funds.

At least 34 percent of the users in the 2010/2011 cohort were known to have completed their plans by the end of the three-year scholarship window

  • Data on completion may under-represent actual completion as spouses and schools may no longer report completion to DoD after scholarship eligibility has ended
  • Differences in users' schools, plans, or other academic factors appear to be quite important when comparing known completion to noncompletion.
  • Spouses who do not complete their plan may still gain valuable skills or knowledge from the classes they take.

Use of MyCAA funds is associated with positive changes in employment and earnings (but further analyses are necessary to support any causal claims)

  • On average, MyCAA-eligible military spouses worked less over time (from 2007 to 2013). By 2013, however, MyCAA users were more likely than nonusers to be employed.
  • Although the average annual earnings of working spouses who used the scholarship had stagnated for several years or even declined prior to October 2010, earnings for this group grew after December 2011.

MyCAA usage is positively associated with service member continuation

  • Of personnel who had three years of service in 2011, 43 percent whose spouses did not use MyCAA were still on active duty in 2014, compared to 52 percent whose spouses did use MyCAA.
  • More generally, service members whose spouses were MyCAA users were more likely to still be on active-duty in 2014 than service members whose spouses were MyCAA-eligible nonusers.


  • Ensure that spouses across the services are aware of the MyCAA Scholarship.
  • Because known completion rates are lower among spouses of new enlistees, consider targeted outreach or a minimum service requirement for spouses of new military personnel.
  • Where feasible, help students look for alternatives to industry-only accredited schools and to schools that offer only online instruction.
  • Develop a process for withdrawing approval for schools with high course failure and plan noncompletion rates. Ensure, however, that schools are not penalized for attracting disadvantaged or higher-risk students — only for providing a poor-quality education.
  • Develop benchmarks for midpoint plan reviews to help identify spouses that may need additional support or guidance from a career counselor.
  • Make career counselors aware of courses of study with high course failure or plan noncompletion rates so they can take care to ensure that spouses understand what is involved.
  • Actively encourage MyCAA users who are dropping classes to do so officially, so DoD receives a refund and the school does not record the classes as "failed."
  • Initiate contact with students who failed a course, to understand context (e.g., poor school-student fit, competing obligations, particularly challenging courses), and to offer them help to figure out how to address what happened.
  • Recognize that MyCAA completion metrics likely underestimate completion, as some spouses likely complete their course of study after they are no longer eligible for MyCAA funds, and thus that completion would not typically be reported to MyCAA.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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